In the world of marketing, there are few things more important than the brand. It should separate you from your competition. It should define your goals. It should be your daily mantra.
But most business owners don’t understand the value of who they are and what they stand for. If you’ve been in business for 25 or 30 years, you’ve probably grown accustomed to your name. Jim’s Photo. Photo Source. It’s been over the door and on your business cards for all this time. But have you thought recently about what it actually stands for?
Corporate brands spend millions of dollars defining who they are. When you say “Apple,” an image is immediately conjured up of a high-tech, white, clean, cool, edgy brand. Anything they introduce takes on the sheen they have created. It’s the same with Nikon or Canon or Samsung. Say the name, and an image pops into your head. As a businessperson who has to deal with their back-office issues, it may not be a pleasant image, but for consumers, each of these companies have clearly defined who they are—and their products take on their aura as soon as they enter the market.
What constitutes a brand? According to Webster, a brand is “a particular identity or image regarded as an asset.” In my mind, a brand isn’t automatically regarded as an asset. But it can be molded into your greatest asset, if you care for it, feed it and nurture it.
Let’s take each of those aspects and examine your own brand.
1. Care for Your Brand. Do you think about your brand every day? Probably not; when was the last time you took stock in what your brand stands for? Does it stand for “High Quality?” “Friendly Service?” “High Tech?” “Lowest Prices?” It doesn’t really matter what it stands for, as long as it stands for what you want it to be. You may not have the lowest prices in town, but if customers are going to come into your store because they trust your honesty and judgment, and you think that’s what will lead to more sales, then so be it. Most important, you need to define who you are. Now that may not be the same as who you were when dad handed you the keys to the store 15 years ago.
Think about what is relevant today, and most important, what you’re good at. What are your distinctive capabilities that set you apart from your competitor down the street—or the local Walmart, or Amazon? And when you define what that is, make sure everything you do is consistent with your brand. That includes the people you hire and the products you sell. If you don’t care for your brand, then your customers will not care for it either.
2. Feed Your Brand. One of the most difficult decisions to make in business is brand advertising. It doesn’t always drive people into your store. It may not even increase your sales in a given month. But talking about your brand and extending its reach in the right places will pay long-term dividends when price may not be to your advantage. And it doesn’t just have to be newspaper or Internet advertising. When was the last time your “brand” sponsored a philanthropic cause? Maybe it was a Walk for Breast Cancer or your local Little League team. If you attach your brand to good causes that allow you to give back to your community or your customers, then there will always be a positive rub to your brand. This is just one way of feeding the brand you own.
When you feed your brand, make sure it’s consistent with what you want your brand to be. Are new moms an important target for you? Well then maybe sponsoring events at your local children’s hospital may be a positive mission. Donating product to those in need, like a local library, might reinforce your brands “helpful, friendly service.” It can be tangential, but it should be consistent.
Take a certain portion of your advertising budget and resist the temptation to just spend it on your weekly specials. If you commit a certain level every year, you and your brand will benefit.
3. Nurture Your Brand. Author Harry Beckwith once said, “It is not slickness, polish, uniqueness or cleverness that makes a brand a brand. It is truth.” So when deciding how to nurture your brand, your best bet is to get to the core of what you want to stand for. And usually, that is the truth.
Your brand has to be believable. Can you be a “high-tech, edgy” brand if none of your salespeople understand technology and you haven’t updated your store in five years? Distinctive capabilities should be at the core of who you are. And every action you take should be consistent with your brand. But your brand must have a core. Edwin Artzt said, “Brand value is very much like an onion. It has layers and a core. The core is the user who will stick with you until the very end.”
In the end, you and your employees will be the greatest ambassadors for your brand. If you take ownership of your brand, it’s your personality, drive, humility and perseverance that will define what you want your brand to stand for. And making sure your brand is defined, understood and protected will go a long way in carving a successful niche in your market.
All this being said, this will be the last issue of the Photo Industry Reporter brand. Next month will begin our own caring, feeding and nurturing process. Stay tuned.